Bill Long 1/1/05
Ironies, Frustrations and the Search for Truth
Within the last year American audiences have seen two different documentary/film "takes" on the Iraq War, one by the American social critic Michael Moore and one by the Eqyptian-born, American-educated filmmaker, Jehane Noujaim. The former, Fahrenheit 911, polarized the theater-going public as much as the Presidential race did the electorate. The latter, Control Room, has not been seen or reviewed as widely, but covers some of the same ground as Fahrenheit 911, focusing as it does on the period from March-May 2003 as the U.S. and coalition forces planned and executed the attack on Iraq. What I seek to do in this mini-essay is not to review the film or approach but rather to focus on the irony-laden statement by senior Al Jazeera producer Samir Khader in the course of the filmmaker's interviews with him.
Samer and Al Jazeera
To put the issue in context, Control Room presents the operations of the Arabic satellite TV station Al Jazeera during the first few months of the Iraq War. Founded only in 1996 and located just outside of Doha, Qatar, Al Jazeera is staffed extensively by ex-BBC reporters with wide knowledge of the Arab world. Even though its broadcasts are in Arabic, its staff discussions are in English and its institutional history is shaped by Western journalistic traditions. Despite being criticized by the Bush administration as a mouthpiece of Al Qaeda or of Arab nationalism, Al Jazeera has also been widely attacked by those same Arab governments under whose thralldom it has allegedly been acting. Thus it probably has more reason to assume the sobriquet "fair and balanced" in its reporting than Fox News ever had.
Khader, who plays himself, is a native of Baghdad and was for 17 years prior to 1995 a reporter in Jordan. Educated in the West, he speaks his ironic and laconic statements with impeccable English. One of the greatest ironies he mentions, which calls for comment, is that though he would designate the War in Iraq as rather the "War on Iraq," and though he seemed quite skeptical of the Bush Administration's claims regarding weapons of mass destruction, he confessed he would be sending his children to college in the United States. In his words he wants them to "exchange the Arabian nightmare for the American dream."
Playing with a Dad's Plans
Let's hypothesize about the children of Khader when they come to the United States. No doubt they will be much better prepared for college than most American students. They will be fluent in at least three languages, with a deep understanding of the history of the Middle East, the realities of current politics and a sense of world power relations that escapes most American 18 year-olds. They will no doubt do very well in America and will be well treated. At least one or two (I don't know how many children he has) will probably do graduate work in computer science or political science/philosophy. They will be able to land lucrative jobs in the United States after their graduate work. They will probably not find the lure of the Middle East as attractive as their dad did (and he may not even want them there). When they marry, they will have children who will be fully Americanized quite quickly. Thus, "grandpa" will be seen as a person from the "old world," a person whose life was defined by a reality that will not be the reality for the children, much less the grandchildren.
The children and grandchildren will probably be articulate spokespeople for an Arab viewpoint, adding their educated voices to the vigorous stew of opinions on the Middle East in this country. But, they will do so as Americans rather than Middle Easterners. They may well support pro-Arab causes, but ultimately their tax dollars will go to that same United States army that commenced the "War on Iraq" in March 2003.
What is ironic, however, is that Samir Kader might not have it any other way. That is, he knows that there will be considerable allure for his children to stay in the US and have a "safe" life in a "democratic" land. He probably realizes that their life will be safer and more professionally satisfying here. But the children will pay taxes which ultimately strengthen the America which Al-Jazeera has criticized in the War.
It is often said that truth is the first casualty of war. More to the pont here, war brings ironies in its wake; ironies that could not be anticipated before the war began. Personal and familial ambitions mean that the children must be Western-educated. Economic and security issues will most likely mean that the children stay in the West. Realities of marriage and family life suggest that the third generation will become citizens of the land that is attacking Iraq. Whether this is just testimony to the great assimilative power of America or to the ultimate good of hearing more mature Arab voices in our culture is unsure. In any case, I couldn't help thinking that part of Samir Khader's Arabic dream was that his children and grandchildren would enjoy the American dream.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long